Premium Precision

by Katie Faulkner

When you want to enjoy a smoldering indulgence, you don’t reach for a machine-made stogie. You require the good stuff – the 100% tobacco, hand-rolled premium cigars.

Yet how much do you actually know about the art and production of hand-rolled cigars? While often made in a factory, finely formed cigars still require a human component, specifically highly skilled workers who care about the quality of their craft.

To start, a complex and lengthy journey from the tobacco fields to the factories takes place. Prior to a specific style or brand of cigar being made, a blend of fermented tobacco is selected and properly prepared. Once the special blend of tobacco reaches the bustling cigar factory, it undergoes a five-step process to become a premium hand-rolled cigar.

In many factories, cigars are created by teams called pairs. Pairs consist of an empunero, or the buncher, and a torcedor, or the roller. Cigars are comprised of three main components: the filler, the binder, and the wrapper. The five-step rolling process begins with the empunero.

Five-Step Rolling Process

Step 1: Filling.

The filler, usually consisting of two to six tobacco leaves depending on the blend and size of the cigar, is bunched into a rough cylinder. The empunero folds the leaves into the cylinder as straight and uniformly as possible, helping to prevent hard or soft spots in the cigar. The thickest leaves get tucked into the center of the bunch; this denser area is where the cherry burns hottest and fuels a more even burn for the rest of the tobacco.

Step 2: Binding.

The empunero tightly wraps the filler with a sturdy, thick leaf called “the binder.” The binder holds the filler together, giving it a rudimentary cigar shape. The bound filler is now called “the bunch.”

Step 3: Molding.

The bunch is now placed into a mold, which can hold numerous cigars, to solidify its correct shape. Each mold gets placed into a screw-tight press that applies pressure for about 30 minutes. After the first half hour, the empunero turns the cigars, helping to maintain an even, cylindrical shape. Following its time in the mold, the bunch should be in the perfect shape of a cigar.

Step 4: Wrapping.

At this point, the bunch is turned over to the highly skilled hands of the torcedor. A wrapper leaf, which is the most precious and expensive leaf in the cigar-making process, is placed on a dampened cigar board. The wrapper leaf is evenly colored, fairly elastic, and silky in texture. Once on the damp board, which helps maintain elasticity, the wrapper leaf is cut to size using a chaveta, or a roller’s knife. Next, the wrapper is smoothed, stretched, and rolled diagonally over the well-shaped bunch. With each turn it is again pulled tight and smooth, until roll after roll, the bunch is completely wrapped. Torcedors take over a year to become proficient at wrapping, and often, many more years to master the skill.

Step 5: Finishing.

The torcedor applies a small circular portion of the wrapper leaf, called a cap, to the tightly wrapped but slightly open head of the cigar. A cap is typically applied with pectin, which is a vegetable-based adhesive. Finally, the torcedor cuts the unfinished end in a tuck cutter to the exact specified length.

Although the cigar is fully formed, it still needs to undergo arduous quality checks on length, taste, appearance, weight, and burn qualities, among other characteristics. If it passes the quality checks, the cigar is then aged for 12 to 24 weeks – a process that helps to remove excess moisture. Once they are properly aged, the wrapper colors are compared and sorted to match, ensuring color consistency in each box. The last step is applying the cigar’s band and packaging it for sale.